Threshold Gifts on the Bookshelf of Your Life

alex atkins bookshelf booksHave you ever received a book on a special occasion like high school or college graduation, or a religious ritual like a first communion or a bat/bar mitzvah, or an engagement or wedding, or your first job or your retirement? Carefully chosen books certainly enhance life’s milestone by making them more special and memorable. One day, when you are much older, you will reflect back on your life and think back on the “bookshelf of your life” and reflect on how those books brought you comfort, joy, or enlightenment. Perhaps some of them helped guide you through the inevitable peaks and valleys of your life journey. Indeed, some may be a part of you, like the enduring influence of a parent, close friend, teacher, or mentor.

In his fascinating book on books, The Secret Life of Books, Tom Mole, a professor of English Literature and Book History at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, recognizes how special these gifted books can be: “The anthropologist Lewis Hyde would describe these books as ‘threshold gifts.’ These are gifts that mark the passage from one place or state of being to another. Often given as part of a ritual presentation, they are at once a way of ensuring the safe passage across the threshold, a marker certifying that the threshold has been passed, and a reminder of the experience. At the thresholds between childhood and adolescence, between singleness and marriage, between marriage, between apprenticeship and qualification, and between life and death, books stand guard.”

What are some of the most cherished books that you received as gifts on the bookshelf of your life?

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Do you agree or disagree; additional perspectives? I welcome thoughtful discussion via comment section or email. Be a part of the community. Cheers.

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4 responses to “Threshold Gifts on the Bookshelf of Your Life

  • boromax

    One of the most memorable and enduring book-gifts I received was a copy of Oswald Chambers’ “My Utmost for His Highest.” It was a combination college graduation and thank-you-for-serving presentation from the pastor and staff at a church for whom I had served as the Youth Pastor – way back in 1977. I have read through that volume (and its successors because it wore out) many, many times.

    • Alexander Atkins

      Hi Ed: Thanks for sharing that gift. What a fascinating book — has sold more than 13 million. There are many formats and guides to that book. What is the greatest insight/life lesson in that book?

      • boromax

        Hello, Alex. Well. I will have a tough time narrowing the wealth of insight in this collection of Chambers’ wisdom to “the greatest.” So, I will mention two things. One: he states that “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,” in the context of explaining the difference between having principles and having vision. Having vision is what gives one the ability to go beyond what one can already hold in one’s hands. Two: the importance of relationship. Serving others should not be about reward, recognition, recompense, or reciprocation. It should be wholly pure and selfless with no expectation of getting anything in return. The power of relationship is in selfless service.

      • Alexander Atkins

        Hi Ed: Thanks for sharing those two insightful and inspiring eternal truths. Now I understand why the book is a classic. Hope you are doing staying safe and healthy, brother. Cheers. Alex

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